Book of Proverbs

General Information

The Book of Proverbs, in the Old Testament of the Bible, is a grouping of wisdom sayings and longer, connected poems composed from the 10th to the 4th century BC and finally collected about 300 BC. The sayings are either statements that provoke further thought or admonitions to behave in particular ways. The longer poems celebrate wisdom, encourage its observance, and personify it as a woman who at God's right hand assisted in creation. Egyptian wisdom is evident in Proverbs, making it possible to date the nucleus of the book to pre exilic times. The book as a whole reflects the ideology of enterprising privileged classes and expresses a general confidence in the human capacity to act freely and wisely. Self interest and religious devotion are shown to be congruent. Respect for women (31:10 - 31) is encouraged. The book is conventionally attributed to Solomon as the prototype of Israelite wisdom, but many sages had a hand in composing and collecting the subsections; mentioned specifically are the "men of Hezekiah."

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R L Alden, Proverbs (1983); L E Boadt, Introduction to Wisdom Literature, Proverbs (1986); W McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach (1970); R B Y Scott, Proverbs (1965) and The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament (1971).

Book of Proverbs

Brief Outline

  1. Introduction (1:1-9)
  2. Sin and righteousness personified and contrasted (1:10-9:18)
  3. Single-verse contrasts of sin and righteousness (10:1-22:16)
  4. Miscellaneous and longer contrasts (22:17-29:27)
  5. Righteousness in poems of climax (30:1-31:31)


Advanced Information

A proverb is a trite maxim; a similitude; a parable. The Hebrew word thus rendered (mashal) has a wide signification. It comes from a root meaning "to be like," "parable." Rendered "proverb" in Isa. 14:4; Hab. 2:6; "dark saying" in Ps. 49:4, Num. 12:8. Ahab's defiant words in answer to the insolent demands of Benhadad, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off," is a well known instance of a proverbial saying (1 Kings 20:11).

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Book of Proverbs

Advanced Information

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of moral and philosophical maxims of a wide range of subjects presented in a poetic form. This book sets forth the "philosophy of practical life. It is the sign to us that the Bible does not despise common sense and discretion. It impresses upon us in the most forcible manner the value of intelligence and prudence and of a good education. The whole strength of the Hebrew language and of the sacred authority of the book is thrown upon these homely truths. It deals, too, in that refined, discriminating, careful view of the finer shades of human character so often overlooked by theologians, but so necessary to any true estimate of human life" (Stanley's Jewish Church). As to the origin of this book, "it is probable that Solomon gathered and recast many proverbs which sprang from human experience in preceeding ages and were floating past him on the tide of time, and that he also elaborated many new ones from the material of his own experience.

Towards the close of the book, indeed, are preserved some of Solomon's own sayings that seem to have fallen from his lips in later life and been gathered by other hands' (Arnot's Laws from Heaven, etc.) This book is usually divided into three parts: (1.) Consisting of ch. 1-9, which contain an exhibition of wisdom as the highest good. (2.) Consisting of ch. 10-24. (3.) Containing proverbs of Solomon "which the men of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, collected" (ch. 25-29). These are followed by two supplements, (1) "The words of Agur" (ch. 30); and (2) "The words of king Lemuel" (ch. 31). Solomon is said to have written three thousand proverbs, and those contained in this book may be a selection from these (1 Kings 4:32). In the New Testament there are thirty-five direct quotations from this book or allusions to it.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Book of Proverbs

From: Home Bible Study Commentary by James M. Gray

That Solomon was the principle author of Proverbs is indicated by chapters 1:1, and 25:1, compared with 1 Kings 4:29-32. The last two chapters were the work of other authors to whom reference is made. See also chapters 25-29.

Their Character
In Solomon's day there was a class of leaders in the eastern nations known as "teachers of wisdom," of which he was the most conspicuous; a supposition which gives countenance to the thought that the address, "My son," is not that of a father to a child, but a teacher to a pupil. Most of the proverbs seem based merely on considerations of worldy prudence, which was quite like Solomon; but considering the Holy Spirit as the real author, we must believe that faith is the underlying motive productive of the conduct to which the reader is exhorted.

Indeed, this is expressed in 1:7; 5:21; 15:11; 23: 17-19; 26:10. Luther called Proverbs "a book of good works"; Coleridge, "the best statesman's manual"; Dean Stanley, "the philosophy of practical life." Angus says, "It is for practical ethics what the psalms are for devotion;" Bridges says "that while other Scriptures show us the glory of our high calling this instructs us minutely how to walk in it." Oetinger says, "The proverbs exhibit Jesus with unusual clearness." In the millennial kingdom doubtless it will constitute, with a portion of the Levitical ordinances and the Sermon on the Mount, the basis of the laws governing its citizens.

Their Literary Style
Provebs is classed with the poetical books of the Bible, but we must content ourselves with a single illustration of the poetic form taken from The Literary Study of the Bible. In 4:10 we have a poem on The Two Paths. Its strophe and antistrophe consist of ten-line figures, varying between longer and shorter lines; the conclusion is a quatrain. This form is a reflex of the thought of the poem; the strophe describes the path of the just, the antistrophe the path of the wicked; the conclusion then blends the two ideas in a common image, as follows: Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; And the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in paths of uprightness. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; And if thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction; Let her not go: Keep her; For she is thy life. Enter not into the path of the wicked, And walk not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, Pass not by it; Turn from it, And pass on. For they sleep not except they have done mischief; And their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness. And drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, That shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness; They know not at what they stumble.

1. What scriptures point to Solomon as the principal author of this book? 2. What scriptures indicate additional authors? 3. What may have been the origin of the book? 4. Is it, on the whole, a book of creed or conduct? 5. Compare it with the psalms. 6. Is it likely to have a future application? If so, when? 7. What is the literary form of the book? 8. Where is the poem on "The Two Paths" found?

Proverbs Chapters 1-3

The nature of this book makes divisions of its chapters rather arbitrary, and ours may not always be the best, but it is hoped it may prove useful in some degree. The opening of chapter four suggests a new beginning, for which reason we conclude this lesson at the close of chapter three. It begins with an advertisement (1:1-6), in which mention is made of the author (v. 1), the object of the book (vv. 2, 3), and its great value (vv. 4-6). Then follows its theme. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (v. 7), of which the remainder of the lesson is a development or exposition.

"Beginning" is rendered in the margin of the Revised Version "chief part." "The fear of the Lord" means a right state of heart towards God as opposed to the condition of an unconverted man. Put the two ideas together, and we learn that the chief part of all knowledge is to be right with God.

In working out of the thought: 1. The teacher exhorts his "son" or pupil, to avoid vice (1:8-19). 2. He shows the ruinous conduct of the unwise, a warning placed on the lips of wisdom personified (1:20-33). 3. This warning is accentuated by contrasting the consequences of obedience and a striving after wisdom (2:1-3). 4. The Lord is shown as the protector of those who are wise in this sense (3:19-26). 5. The division concludes with an admonition to charity and justice (3:27-35).

Practical and Doctrinal Remarks
In this part of the lesson we call attention to particular verses for explanation or application, acknowledging indebtedness to Arnot's "Laws From Heaven for Life on Earth." 1:23 is a text for a revival sermon, containing a command and a promise joined, like Philippians 2:12. It teaches in one sentence those two seemingly contradictiory doctrines, the sovereignity of God, and the free agency of man. It is when we turn at God's reproof that He pours out His Spirit; though it be also true that unless His Spirit is poured out we can not turn. 1:24-32 offers an opportunity to preach on God's mercy to a rebellious people. He calls, stretches out His hands, counsels, and administers reproof. On the other hand men refuse, disregard, set at nought, reject.

The natural consequence follows; sowing disobedience they reap judgment. That judgment consists in calling on God and getting no answer, seeking diligently and not finding Him. The passage closes with a promise to them that hearken, deliverance from death at last and freedom from fear now. 2:1-9 suggests Christ's words in Luke 11:9, "Seek, and ye shall find." The seeking is in verses 1-4, the finding in verses 5-9. 2:10-22 is an outline of "the way of evil" (v. 12, R. V.).

The first step is "speaking froward things"; the second, leaving "the paths of uprightness," the feet soon follow the tongue (v. 13); the third, walking "in the ways of darkness" (v. 13); the fourth, rejoicing "to do evil" (v. 14); fifth, delighting, "in the frowardness of the wicked," we can not take pleasure in doing wickedness without finding pleasure in seeing others do it; sixth, to complete the picture, the evil person here particularly in mind is seen to be a woman (vv. 16-22). 3:5, 6 presents one of the strongest promises of the Bible, the first text from which the author of this commentary ever preached.

Note how we are to trust, "with all thine heart." God complains as much of a divided allegiance as of none. Note the extent of our trust, "in all thy ways." "Few will refuse to acknowledge a superintending providence at certain times, and in certain operations that are counted great," but God wants us to confide in Him in the little, close, and kindly things. 3:11, 12 is quoted in Hebrews 12:5, 6. Note there how the inspired writer interprets the phrase, "My son." The speaker in Proverbs may have been addressing a pupil merely, but the Holy Spirit through him, "speaketh unto you as unto sons." "Despise not," means do not make light of chastening or cast it aside as if it had no meaning for you; "faint not" touches the opposite extreme, do not be driven to despair by the experience. "The middle way is the path of safety." 3:13-20 is a description and appreciation of wisdom, which throughout this book means piety or godliness.

In Ecclestiastes it is science. And yet piety or godliness hardly expresses it in the highest sense in which it is sometimes found, where as for example in these verses, it suggests Christ. He is the wisdom of God as we learn in the New Testament, who, by the Holy Spirit through the holy Scriptures is made unto us wisdom (1 Cor. 2). Such wisdom can not be planned, much less created by us, but must be "found" or "gotten" (v. 13). Observe the figures describing it. It is precious merchandise (vv. 14, 15). It is a way of honor, pleasantness and peace (vv. 16, 17). It is a tree of life (v. 18).

1. What is the chief part of all knowledge? 2. Give the five general divisions of this lesson. 3. Quote and give the doctrinal teaching of 1:23. 4. Quote and give the spiritual significance of 1:33; 3:5, 6; 3:11, 12. 5. What does "wisdom" mean in this book?

Proverbs Chapters 4-7

These chapters begin with reminiscence. A father is reciting to a son the precepts taught him by his father in his youth, and which cover chapter four. Chapter five is a warning against the evil woman. Chapter six deals with suretyship, indolence, malice and violence, while chapter seven returns to the theme of chapter five. In the first-named chapter occurs the beautiful illustration of Hebrew rhythm to which attention was called in Lesson 1; and following it we find in verses 18 and 23, two of as oft-quoted texts as are in the whole book.

The "just" man, as usual in the Bible, is he who is justified by faith and walks with God in a holy obedience. On him the Sun of Righteousness shines. His new life is at first like the morning light, a struggle between the darkness and the dawn. Ere long the doubt vanishes, and morning is unequivocally declared. The counterpart is fitted to overawe the boldest heart, "The way of the wicked is as darkness, they know not at what they stumble. The thought is that the darkness is in them and they carry it, an evil heart of unbelief, wherever they go.

As to the other text, notice the fountain, the heart (v. 23), and then the stream, the mouth, the eyes, the feet (vv. 24-27). The heart is kept by prayer and the Word of God, and then the life issuing from it is what it ought to be. The speech is pure, and true and potent. There are no secret longings and side glances after forbidden things, and the steps in matters of business, society, and the home are all ordered of the Lord. (Compare Christ's words, Matt. 15:18-20).

Family Joys We have spoken of chapter five as a warning against the evil woman, which is true of its first half; but the reader will observe how the warning is accentuated by the contrast of the pure and happy home life in the second half, beginning at verse 15. The former is a dark back ground to bring out the latter's beauty. The keynote of the first half is "remove for from her." She is deceitful (vv. 3, 4), unstable (v. 6) and cruel (v. 9). To associate with her means waste of property and health (vv. 8, 9), and at the last remorse (vv. 12-14).

The home in comparison is a pure and well-guarded well (v. 15). Read verses 16 and 17 in the Revised Version, and observe a husband's duty toward his wife (v. 18). Let him avoid biting words, neglect, unnecessary absences and the like. And as Paul says (Eph. 5:33), let "the wife see that she reverence her husband." The suretyship against which we are warned (6: 1-5) is of the inconsiderate kind. "That imprudent assumption of such obligations leaving out of account the moral unreliableness of the man involved." The advice is to get the quickest release possible (vv. 3-5). It does not mean that we should not kindly and prudently help a neighbor in financial need, if we can.

The "mother" of verses 20-24 must be one who knows God, for it is the instilling of His Word only in the heart of her child that can produce the results indicated. Observe it is a grown son here referred to as keeping his mother's law.

1. What are the general subjects treated in these chapters? 2. Quote and explain 6:18. 3. What possible evidence is there in this lesson of our Lord's acquaintance with Proverbs? 4. What does this lesson teach about conjugal love? About parental authority? About suretyship?

Proverbs Chapters 8-9

In these chapters we have a public discourse of Wisdom (personified) (c. 8), and what Lange describes as an allegorical exhibition of the call of men to a choice of wisdom or folly, (c. 9). It is really our Lord Jesus Christ putting forth this voice (8:1), and crying unto men at the gates of the city (vv. 4, 5). It is He who speaks the excellent things (v.6), and on whose lips wickedness is an abomination (v. 7). Of Him alone can it be predicted that there is nothing crooked (forward) in His mouth (v. 8), or to be desired in comparison with Him (v. 10-18). It is He whose fruit is better than gold and who fills our treasuries (vv. 19-21). Were there any doubt of this identity would it not be removed by the remainder of the chapter? Who was set up from everlasting (v. 23)? Or, who was daily God's delight (v. 30)? And of whom can it be said that to find Him finds life (v. 35)?

The Redeemer Anticipating Redemption
The heading of this paragraph expresses Arnot's conception of the latter part of the chapter, who says that, "if the terms are not applied to Christ they must be strained at every turn." Of course in a book written by Solomon it could not be said that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and died upon the cross, but if the Holy Sprit wished to make known something of the personal history of Christ before His coming, how could He have done so in plainer terms than these? Quoting the same in verses 30 and 31: "There three things are set in the order of the everlasting covenant: (1), the Father well pleased with His Beloved, 'I was daily His delight;' (2) the Son delighting in the Father's presence, 'rejoicing always before Him;' (3), the Son looking with prospective delight to the scene and subjects of His redemptive work, 'rejoicing in the habitable part of a His earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.'"

The Marriage Supper in the Old Testament
Arnot gives the foregoing title to the opening verses of chapter 9, where Wisdom, personifying the Son of God, has now come nigh unto men, having His habitation among them. Here we have the house, the prepared feast, the messengers, the invited guests, and the argument by which the invitation is supported. The positive side of that argument is: "Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled." The negative is: "Forsake the foolish, and live." The closing of this chapter exhibits Christ's "great rival standing in the same wide thoroughfare of the world and bidding for the youth who thronged it." "All that is contrary to Christ and dangerous to souls, is gathered up and individualized in the person of an abandoned woman lying in wait for unwary passengers, baiting her hook with sin and dragging her victims down the incline to hell." The reader will see how Proverbs may be fruitfully utilized in preaching the gospel.

1. What have we in these chapters? 2. Who really is speaking here? 3. What proves it? 4. Analyze verses 30 and 31 from the New Testament point of view. 5. What parable of Christ is suggested in chapter 9?

Proverbs Chapters 10-15

Some regard the division now entered upon as the original nucleus of the whole collection of proverbs (see the first sentence of verse one). The division extends really to the close of chapter 22, and contains "maxims, precepts and admonitions with respect to the most diverse relations of life." In so much of it as is covered by the present lesson we have a contrast "between the godly and the ungodly, and their respective lots in life."

Following Zockler's outline in Lange we have this contrast set before us, first in general terms (c. 10), and after that, to the end of the lesson, in detail, as follows: (1) As to the just and unjust, and good and bad conduct towards one's neighbor, chapter 11. (2) As to the domestic and public associations, chapter 12. (3) As to the use of temporal good, and of the Word of God as the highest good, chapter 13. (4) As to the relation between the wise and the foolish, the rich and the poor, masters and servants, chapter 14. (5) As to the various other relations and callings in life, especially within the sphere of religion, chapter 15.

Memory Verses and Choice Texts
This lesson is not suggestive of questions, but contains verses it would be well to memorize. For example, in chapter 10, verses 7, 9, 14, 22, 25; chapter 11, verses 1, 2, 13, 24, 25, 26, 30; chapter 13, verses 7, 15, 24; chapter 14, verses 10, 12, 25, 27, 32, 34; chapter 15, verses 1, 3, 8. In Arnot's "Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth," there are helpful discourses on several of these texts, the titles of which will be appreciated by young preachers: "Posthumous Fame," 10:7; "The Center of Gravity," 10:9; "The Passing Whirlwind and the Sure Foundation," 10:25; "Assorted Pairs," 11:2; "Virtue Its Own Reward," 11: 17; "Scattering to Keep, and Keeping to Scatter," 11:24; "Raising the Market," 11:26; "The Wisdom of Winning Souls," 11:30; "Man Responsible for His Belief," 14:12; "The Two Departures--The Hopeful and the Hopeless," 14:32

Proverbs Chapters 16-24

In these chapters we have a series of exhortations to a life of godliness expressed in general terms about as follows: (1) Confidence in God as a wise ruler, chapter 16. (2) A disposition of peacefulness and contentment, chapter 17. (3) The virtues of affability, fidelity, and others of a social nature, chapter 18. (4) Humility and meekness, chapter 19. (5) Sobriety, diligence and kindness, chapter 21. (6) Justice, patience, submission, chapter 21. (7) The attainment and preservation of a good name, chapter 22. (8) Warnings against avarice, licentiousness, and similar vices, chapter 23. (9) Warnings against ungodly companionship, chapter 24.

Proverbs Chapters 25-29

This division of the book is introduced in the first verse of chapter 25, as the "proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out." What these words mean it is difficult to say, except in the general sense that the teachers of Hezekiah's period selected and gathered together wise sayings that had been written, or handed down orally in previous generations. They may have been those of Solomon only, and yet his name may be attached to them simply because they were now made part of his general collection. They contain admonitions to the fear of God and righteousness, addressed partly to kings, and yet also to their subjects. They also contain warnings against evil conduct of various kinds, (c. 26); against conceit and arrogance (c. 27); against unlawful dealings, especially of the rich with the poor (c. 28); and against stubbornness and insubordination, (c. 29).

Proverbs Chapters 30-31

The last division consists of two supplements, one of the words of Agur (c. 30), and the other of Lemuel (c. 31). Agur's words begin with an exaltation of the Word of God (vv. 1-6), followed by short and pithy maxims with reference to the rich and the poor, pride and greed, etc. Lemuel's words open with a philosophical statement, applying chiefly to kings, followed by his well-known poem in praise of the virtuous woman.

Book of Proverbs

Catholic Information

One of the Sapiential writings of the Old Testament placed in the Hebrew Bible among the Hagiographa, and found in the Vulgate after the books of Psalms and Job.

I. Names and General Object

In the Masoretic Text, the Book of Proverbs has for its natural heading the words Míshlê Shelomoh (Proverbs of Solomon), wherewith this sacred writing begins (cf. x). In the Talmud and in later Jewish works the Book of Proverbs is oftentimes designated by the single word Míshlê, and this abridged title is expressly mentioned in the superscription "Liber Proverbiorum, quem Hebræi Misle appellant", found in the official edition of the Vulgate. In the Septuagint manuscripts, the two Hebrew titles are rendered by and , respectively. From these Greek titles again are immediately derived the Latin renderings, "Parabolæ Salomonis", "Parabolæ", a trace of which appears in the Tridentine "Decretum de Canon. Script.", wherein the Book of Proverbs is simply called "Parabolæ". The ordinary title "Proverbia Salomonis" was apparently taken from the Old Latin Version into the Vulgate, whence comes directly the usual English title of "Proverbs". In the Church's liturgy, the Book of Proverbs is, like the other Sapiential writings, designated by the common term "Wisdom". This is consonant to the practice, common in early Christian times, of designating such books by the word "Wisdom" or by some expresion in which this word occurs, as "All-virtuous Wisdom", etc. Indeed, it is probable that the title , "Wisdom", was common in Jewish circles at the beginning of Christianity, and that it passed from them to the early Fathers of the Church (cf. Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", IV, xxii, xxvi). Of the various names given to the Book of Proverbs, that of Wisdom best sets forth the ethical object of this inspired writing. However disconnected the pithy sayings or vivid descriptions which make up the book may appear, they, each and all, are bound by one and the same moral purpose: they aim at inculcating wisdom as understook by the Hebrews of old, that is perfection of knowledge showing itself in action, whether in the case of king or peasant, statesman or artisan, philosopher or unlearned. Differently from the term "Wisdom", the title Míshlê (St. Jerome, Masloth) has a distinct reference to the symbolic character and poetical form of the sayings which are gathered together in the Book of Proverbs. In general, the Hebrew Mashal (constr. plur. Míshlê) denotes a representative saying, that is, a statement which, however deduced from a single instance, is capable of application to other instances of a similar kind. Taken in this sense, it corresponds pretty well to the words proverb, parable, maxim etc., in our Western literatures. But besides, it has the meaning of sentences constructed in parallelism; and in point of fact, the contents of the Book of Proverbs exhibit, from beginning to end, this leading feature of Hebrew poetry. Hence, it appears that, as prefixed to this inspired writing, the word Míshlê describes the general character of the Book of Proverbs as a manual of practical rules which are set forth in a poetical form.

II. Divisions and Contents

As it stands at the present day, the Book of Proverbs begins with the general title, "Míshlê Shelomoh, the son of David, king of Israel", which is immediately followed by a prologue (i, 2-6), stating the aim and importance of the entire work: the whole collection aims at imparting wisdom and at enabling men to understand all kinds of Mashals. The first part of the book (i, 7-ix), itself a hortatory introduction to the collection of proverbs which follows, is a commendation of wisdom. After a deeply religious epigraph (i, 7), the writer, speaking like a father, gives a series of exhortations and warnings to an imagined pupil or disciple. He warns him against evil company (i, 8-19); describes to him the advantages attending the pursuit of wisdom, and the evils to be avoided by such course (ii); exhorts him to obedience, to trust in God, to the payment of legal offerings, to patience under the Divine chastisements, and sets forth the priceless value of wisdom (iii, 1-26). After some miscellaneous precepts (iii, 27-35), he renews his pressing exhortation to wisdom and virtue (iv), and gives several warnings against unchaste women (v; vi, 20-35; vii), after the first of which are inserted warnings against suretyship, indolence, falsehood, and various vices (vi, 1-19. At several points (i, 20-33; viii; ix) Wisdom herself is introduced as speaking and as displaying her charms, origin, and power to men. The style of this first part is flowing, and the thoughts therein expressed are generally developed in the form of connected discourses. The second part of the book (x-xxii, 16) has for its distinct heading: "Míshlê Shelomoh", and is made up of disconnected sayings in couplet form, arranged in no particular order, so that it is impossible to give a summary of them. In many instances a saying is repeated within this large collection, usually in identical terms, at times with some slight changes of expression. Appended to this second part of the book are two minor collections (xxii, 17-xxiv, 22; ssiv, 23-34), chiefly made up of aphoristic quatrains. The opening verses (xxii, 17-21) of the first appendix request attention to the "words of the wise" which follow (xxii, 22-xxiv, 22), and which, in a consecutive form recalling that of the first part of the book, set forth warnings against various excesses. The second appendix has for its title: "These also are words of the wise", and the few proverbs it contains conclude with two verses (33, 34), apparently taken over from vi, 10, 11. The third part of the book (xxv-xxix) bears the inscription: "These are also Míshlê Shelomoh, which the men of Ezechias, king of Juda, copied out." By their miscellaneous character, their couplet form, etc., the proverbs of this third part resemble those of x-xxii, 16. Like them also, they are followed by two minor collections (xxx and xxxi, 1-9), each suplied with its respective title. The first of these minor collections has for its heading: "Words of Agur, the son of Takeh", and its principal contents are Agur's meditation on the Divine transcendence (xxx, 2-9), and groups of numerical proverbs. The second minor collection is inscribed: "The Words of Lamuel, a king: the oracle which his mother taught him." In it the queen-mother warns her son against sensuality, drunkenness, and injustice. Nothing is known of Agur and Lamuel; their names are possibly symbolical. The book concludes with an alphabetical poem descriptive of the virtuous woman (xxxi, 10-39).

III. Hebrew Text and Ancient Versions

A close study of the present Hebrew Text of the Book of Proverbs proves that the primitive wording of the pithy sayings which make up this manual of Hebrew wisdom has experienced numerous alterations in the course of its transmission. Some of these imperfections have, with some probability, been assigned to the period during which the maxims of the "wise men" were preserved orally. Most of them belong undoubtedly to the time after these sententious or enigmatic sayings had been written down. The Book of Proverbs was numbered among the "Hagiographa" (writings held by the ancient Hebrews as less sacred and authoritative than either the "Law" or the "Prophets"), and, in consequence, copyists felt naturally less bound to transcribe its text with scrupulous accuracy. Again, the copyists of Proverbs knew, or at least thought they knew, by memory the exact words of the pithy sayings they had to write out; hence arose involuntary changes which, once introduced, were perpetuated or even added to by subsequent transcribers. Finally, the obscure or enigmatic character of a certain number of maxims led to the deliberate insertion of glosses in the text, so that primitive distichs now wrongly appear in the form of tristichs, etc. (cf. Knabenbauer, "Comm. in Proverbia", Paris, 1910). Of the ancient versions of the Book of Proverbs, the Septuagint is the most valuable. It probably dates from the middle of the second century B. C., and exhibits very important differences from the Massoretic Text in point of omissions, transpositions, and additions. The translator was a Jew conversant indeed with the Greek language, but had at times to use paraphrases owing to the difficulty of rendering Hebrew pithy sayings into intelligible Greek. After full allowance has been made for the translator's freedom in rendering, and for the alterations introduced into the primitive wording of this version by later transcribers and revisers, two things remain quite certain: first, the Septuagint may occasionally be utilized for the discovery and the enmendation of inaccurate readings in our present Hebrew Text; and next, the most important variations which this Greek Version presents, especially in the line of additions and transpositions, point to the fact that the translator rendered a Hebrew original which differed considerably from the one embodied in the Massoretic Bibles. It is well known that the Sahidic Version of Proverbs was made from the Septuagint, before the latter had been subjected to recensions, and hence this Coptic Version is useful for the control of the Greek Text. The present Peshito, or Syriac Version of Proverbs was probably based on the Hebrew Text, with which it generally agrees with regard to material and arrangement. At the same time, it was most likely made with respect to the Septuagint, the peculiar readings of which it repeatedly adopts. The Latin Version of Proverbs, which is embodied in the Vulgate, goes back to St. Jerome, and for the most part closely agrees with the Massoretic Text. It is probable that many of its present deviations from the Hebrew in conformity with the Septuagint should be referred to later copyists anxious to complete St. Jerome's work by means of the "Vetus Itala", which had been closely made from the Greek.

IV. Authorship and Date

The vexed questions anent the authorship and date of the collections which make up the Book of Proverbs go back only to the sixteenth century of our era, when the Hebrew Text began to be studied more closely than previously. They were not even suspected by the early Fathers who, following implicitly the inscriptions in i, 1; x, 1; xxiv, 1 (which bear direct witness to the Solomonic authorship of large collections of proverbs), and being misled by the Greek rendering of the titles in xxx, 1; xxxi, 1 (which does away altogether with the references to Agur and Lamuel as authors distinct from Solomon), regarded King Solomon as the author of the whole Book of Proverbs. Nor were they real questions for the subsequent writers of the West, although these medieval authors had in the Vulgate a more faithful rendering of xxx, 1; xxxi, 1, which might have led them to reject the Solomonic origin of the sections ascribed to Agur and Lamuel respectively, for in their eyes the words Agur and Lamuel were but symbolical names of Solomon. At the present day, most Catholic scholars feel free to treat as non-Solomonic not only the short sections which are ascribed in the Hebrew Text to Agur and Lamuel, but also the minor collections which their titles attribute to "the wise" (xxii, 16- xxiv, 22; xxiv, 23-34), and the alphabetical poem concerning the virtuous woman which is appended to the whole book. With regard to the other parts of the work (i-ix; x-xxii, 16; xxv-xxix), Catholic writers are wellnigh unanimous in ascribing them to Solomon. Bearing distinctly in mind the statement in III (A. V. I) Kings, iv, 29-32, that, in his great wisdom, Solomon "spoke 3000 Mashals", they have no difficulty in admitting that this monarch may be the author of the much smaller number of proverbs included in the three collections in question. Guided by ancient Jewish and Christian tradition they feel constrained to abide by the explicit titles to the same collections, all the more so because the titles in the Book of Proverbs are manifestly discriminating with respect to authorship, and because the title, "These also are Mishle Shelomoh, which the men of Ezechias, King of Juda, copied out" (xxv, 1), in particular, bears the impress of definiteness and accuracy. Lastly, looking into the contents of these three large collections, they do not think that anything found therein with respect to style, ideas, historic background etc. should compel anyone to give up the traditional authorship, at whatever time–either under Ezechias, or as late as Esdras–all the collections embodied in the Book of Proverbs reached their present form and arrangement. A very different view concerning the authorship and date of the collections ascribed to Solomon by their titles is gaining favour among non-Catholic scholars. It treats the headings of these collections as no more reliable than the titles of the Psalms. It maintains that none of the collections comes from Solomon's own hand and that the general tenor of their contents bespeaks a late post-exilic date. The following are the principal arguments usually set forth in favour of this opinion. In these collections there is no challenge of idolatry, such as would naturally be expected if they were pre-exilic, and monogamy is everywhere presupposed. It is very remarkable, too, that throughout no mention is made of Israel or of any institution peculiar to Israel. Again, the subject of those collections is not the nation, which apparently no longer enjoys independence, but the individual, to whom wisdom appeals in a merely ethical, and hence very late, manner. The personification of wisdom, in particular (chap. viii), is either the direct result of the influence of Greek upon Jewish thought, or, if independent of Greek philosophy, the product of late Jewish metaphysics. Finally, the close spiritual and intellectual relation of Proverbs to Ecclesiasticus shows that, however great and numerous are the differences in detail between them, the two works cannot be separated by an interval of several centuries. Despite the confidence with which some modern scholars urge these arguments against the traditional authorship of i-ix; x-xxii, 16; xxv,- xxix, a close examination of their value leaves one unconvinced of their proving force.

I. Names and General Object

The Book of Proverbs is justly numbered among the protocanonical writings of the Old Testament. In the first century of our era its canonical authority was certainly acknowledged in Jewish and Christian circles, for the Sacred Writers of the New Testament make a frequent use of its contents, quoting them at times explicitly as Holy Writ (cf. Romans 12:19-20; Hebrews 12:5-6; James 4:5-6, etc.). It is true that certain doubts as to the inspiration of the Book of Proverbs, which had been entertained by ancient rabbis who belonged to the School of Shammai, reappeared in the Jewish assembly at Jamnia (about A. D. 100); but these were only theoretical difficulties which could not induce the Jewish leaders of the time to count this book out of the Canon, and which in fact were there and then set at rest for ever. The subsequent assaults of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 429), of Spinoza (d. 1677), and of Le Clerc (d. 1736) against the inspiration of that sacred book left likewise its canonical authority unshaken.

Publication information Written by Francis E. Gigot. Transcribed by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


For Introductions to the Old Testament see INTRODUCTION. Recent commentaries–Catholic: ROHLING, (Mainz, 1879); LESÊTRE (Paris, 1879); FILLION (Paris, 1892); VIGOUROUX (Paris, 1903); KNABENBAUER (Paris, 1910). Protestant: ZÖCKLER (tr. New York, 1870); DELITSCH (tr. Edinburgh, 1874); NOWACK (Leipzig, 1883); WILDEBOER (Freiburg, 1897); FRANKENBERG (Göttingen, 1898); STRACK (Nördlingen, 1899); TOY (New York, 1899). General works: MEIGNAN, Solomon, son règne, ses écrits (Paris, 1890); CHEYNE, Job and Solomon, (New York, 1899); KENT, The Wise Men of Ancient Israel (New York, 1899); DAVISON, The Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (London, 1900).

Book of Proverbs

Jewish Perspective Information

Article Headings:

Title and Divisions.

Not Solomonic.


No Immortality or Messiah.


Title and Divisions.

One of the Ketubim, or Hagiographa, belonging to the group of "Ḥokmah," or "Wisdom" books. The Masoretic superscription to the first and twenty-fifth chapters is "Proverbs of Solomon" ("Mishle Shelomoh"; and so in the subscription to the book in the Alexandrian and Sinaitic Greek MSS.); but in the Greek and in later Jewish usage (and in the A. V. and R. V.) the book is entitled simply "Proverbs" ("Mishle"). The longer title belonged originally to the central collection of aphorisms, x. 1-xxii. 16, and to xxv.-xxix., and may have been extended early to the whole work, but the shorter form became the predominant one, as, indeed, there are other titles to certain sections (xxii. 17, xxx. 1, xxxi, 1). It is uncertain whether or not the name "Wisdom" (or "All-Virtuous Wisdom"), common in early Christian writings (Clement of Rome, "Corinth," i. 57; Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." iv. 22 et al.), was of Jewish origin; the designation "Book of Wisdom" in the Talmud (Tosef., B. B. 14b) may be a descriptive term and not a title, and the citation of Job xxviii. 12 ("But where shall wisdom be found?") at the beginning of the Midrash merely indicates that the book belongs in the Ḥokmah category.

The following divisions of the book are indicated in the text: (1) A group of discourses on the conduct of life (i.-ix.), comprising the praise of wisdom as the guide of life (i.-iv.); warnings against unchaste women (v.-vii.; with three misplaced paragraphs, vi. 1-19, against certain social faults); the description of wisdom as the controller of life and as Yhwh's companion in the creation of the world (viii.); and a contrast between wisdom and folly (ix.; with a misplaced collection of aphorisms, ix. 7-12). (2) A collection, or book, of aphoristic couplets (x. 1-xxii. 16). (3) Two small groups of aphoristic quatrains (xxii. 17-xxiv. 22 and xxiv. 23-34). (4) A second collection of couplets (xxv.-xxix). (5) A miscellaneous group of discourses and numerical aphorisms (xxx.-xxxi.), mostly in tetrads: reverent agnosticism (xxx. 1-4); certainty of God's word (5-6); a prayer (7-9); against slandering a servant (10); against certain vices and errors (11-33); a code for a king (xxxi. 1-9); a picture of a model housewife (10-31). These divisions, various in form and content, suggest that the book was formed by the combination of a number of booklets.

Not Solomonic.

The ascription of the book to Solomon, in the titles and in tradition, is without valid foundation. In the Prophets and Psalms titles are admittedly not authoritative-they are based on the feeling or guesses of late scribes, not on documentary evidence-and they can not be more trustworthy here. The elaborate heading to the section xxv.-xxix. ("Proverbs of Solomon Edited by Scholars of Hezekiah's Court") is paralleled by the superscriptions to some of the Psalms (li., lix., lx.), which are manifestly untrustworthy. Hezekiah'stime may have been chosen by the author of this heading because he regarded the collection xxv.-xxix. as later than x.-xxii. 16, and therefore to be referred to the Augustan age of Hezekiah, which followed the golden age of David and Solomon. But there is no proof that the age of Hezekiah was Augustan; on the contrary, it was a period of conflict, and the work of editing and combining did not begin till a century or two later. Moreover, as is pointed out below, the thought of the Book of Proverbs is as alien to the Hezekian as to the Solomonic age.

In the first place, there is no trace in the book of the religious problems and conflicts of the pre-exilic period. The Prophets, from Amos to Ezekiel, are in deadly fear of foreign cults, and testify, during this whole period, that Israel is more or less given over to the worship of other gods than Yhwh and to idolatry. The polemic against such infidelity is the dominant note of the prophetic preaching down to the latter half of the sixth century. But in Proverbs there is not a word of all this. Monotheism is quietly taken for granted. There is no mention of priests or prophets (the word "vision" in xxix. 18 is a clerical error); the sacrificial ritual is almost completely ignored. Throughout the literature till the time of Ezra the national interest is predominant; here it is quite lacking-the name Israel does not occur. The religious atmosphere of the book is wholly different from that which characterizes Jewish thought down to the end of the fifth century.


In no point is the change more noticeable than in the attitude toward wisdom. The wisdom of the pre-Ezran Old Testament writings is shrewd common sense and general keen intelligence (II Sam. xiv.; I Kings iii.); and because it was controlled by worldly considerations it was looked on with disfavor by the Prophets as not being in harmony with the word of God as they understood it (Jer. viii. 9, ix. 23; Ezek. vii. 26). In Proverbs it stands for the broadest and highest conception of life, and is identified with the law of God. Yet it is the utterance of sages, whose counsel is represented as the only sufficient guide of conduct (i.-iv., xxii. 17-21). The sages do not employ the prophetic formula "Thus saith the Lord" or appeal to the law of Moses; they speak out of their own minds, not claiming divine inspiration, yet assuming the absolute authoritativeness of what they say-that is, they regard conscience as the final guide of life. While the contents of the book are various, parts of it dealing with simple, every-day matters, the prevailing tone is broadly religious: God is the ruler of the world, and wisdom is the expression (through human conscience) of His will. In one passage (viii.), animated by a fine enthusiasm, wisdom is personified (almost hypostatized) as a cosmic force, the nursling of God, standing by His side at the creation of the world (comp. Job xxviii.; Wisdom of Solomon vii.). This conception, foreign to the pre-Ezran Old Testament thought, suggests the period when the Jews came under Greek influence.

No Immortality or Messiah.

The theology of Proverbs is the simplest form of theism. The individual man stands in direct relation with God, needing no man or angel to act as mediator (comp. Job v. 1. xxxiii. 23). No supernatural being, except God, is mentioned. Salvation lies in conduct, which is determined by man's will. Men are divided into two classes, the righteous and the wicked: the former are rewarded, the latter punished, by God; how one may pass from one class into the other is not said. Reward and punishment belong to the present life; the conception of the underworld is the same as in the body of Old Testament writings; there is no reference to ethical immortality (on xi. 7 and xiv. 32 see the commentaries). Wickedness leads to premature death (v. 5, ix. 18, et al.); wisdom confers long life (iii. 16). Doubtless the authors, pious men, observed the national sacrificial laws (xv. 8), but they lay no stress on them-they regard conduct as the important thing. The book contains no Messianic element. The description in xvi. 10-15 is of the ideal king, who is controlled by the human law of right (in contrast with the delineations in Isa. xi. 1-5, xxxii. 1, 2; Zech. ix. 9). This attitude may point to a time when there was a lull in the general Messianic i nterest (about 250-200 B.C.), but it is satisfactorily accounted for by the supposition that the sages, concerned with the inculcation of a universal code of life, took little interest in the popular hope of a restoration of national independence. Proverbs bears witness, especially in the first and the third division, to the existence of some sort of organized higher instruction at the time when it was composed. The frequent form of address, "my son," indicates the relation of a teacher to his pupils. There is no information regarding regular academies before the second century B.C. (from Antigonus of Soko onward), but it is probable that those that are known did not spring into existence without forerunners. The instruction in such schools would naturally be of the practical ethical sort that is found in Proverbs (on the "mashal" form here adopted see Proverbs). The book has been always highly valued for the purity and elevation of its moral teaching. Not only are justice and truthfulness everywhere enjoined, but revenge is forbidden (xxiv. 17), and kindness to enemies insisted on (xxv. 21). The conception of family life is a high one: monogamy is taken for granted; children are to honor parents, and parents to be the guides of children; an honorable position is assigned the wife and mother. Infidelity on the part of a married woman is denounced at length (v., vii.), and the youth is repeatedly warned against the "strange woman," that is, the unchaste wife of another man. There are many maxims relating to thrift and economy (vi. 1-11, xxvii. 23-27, et al.). Excess is denounced, and self-control and temperance enjoined. The motive urged for well-doing is well-being, success, and happiness. In so far the ethical system is utilitarian, but the success presented as a goal, while sometimes merely material (xi. 15; xviii. 2, 18, et al.), rises at other times to the height of an ideal conception of a happy life (iii., viii.). In this higher sense the utilitarian view approaches the idea of a life devoted to humanity, though this idea is not definitely expressed in Proverbs.


The characteristics described above point to the post-Ezran period as the time of origination of the book; to this period alone can be referred the tacit recognition of monotheism and monogamy, the absence of a national tone, and the marks of a developed city life. These traits are reproduced in Ben Sira (B.C. 190), the similarity of whose thought to that of Proverbs is obvious. But this latter is made up of different parts that appear to be of different dates. From a comparison of thought and form the following conclusion may be regarded as probable: The earliest collections (about the year 400) were the aphorisms contained in x.-xv., xvi.-xxii. 16, xxv.-xxvii., and xxviii.-xxix., from which later editors formed the two booklets, x.-xxii. 16 and xxv.-xxix. (350-300). A little later came the collection of more elaborate quatrains, xxii. 17-xxiv., and, toward the middle of the third century, the sustained discourses of i.-ix. The latest section, probably, is xxx.-xxxi., and the whole may have been edited not long before the year 200. These dates are approximate, but it seems reasonably certain that the book is later than the year 400 B.C. On the objection made to its canonization see Bible Canon (§ 11); on the text and versions see the commentaries. In the Septuagint the order of subsections in the third, fourth, and fifth divisions is as follows: xxii. 17-xxiv. 22; xxx. 1-14; xxiv. 23-34; xxx. 15-33; xxxi. 1-9; xxv.-xxix.; xxxi. 10-31. Whether this divergence from the Hebrew order is due to accident, or to caprice, or to an original difference of arrangement, it is hardly possible to say.

Crawford Howell Toy

Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.



Baumgartner, Etude Critique sur l'Etat du Texte du Livre des Proverbes, 1890; Bickell, in W. Z. K. M. 1891; Pinkuss (Syriac version), in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1894; Grätz, in his Monatsschrift, 1884, and Emendationes, 1892-94; Chajes, Proverbien Studien, 1899; Müller and Kautzsch, in S. B. O. T. 1901. Translations and Commentaries: Midrash Mishle, ed. Buber, 1893; Saadia, ed. Derenbourg, 1894; Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Levi b. Gershom, in Giggeius, In Proverbia Salomonis, 1620.

For other Jewish commentaries see L. Dukes, in Cahen, La Bible, 1847, and H. Deutsch, Die Sprüche Salomon's nach Talmud und Midrasch Dargestellt, 1887; Ewald, Poetische Bücher des A. T.'s, 1837, 1867; Delitzsch, Commentary, English transl., 1875; Nowack, in Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch, 1887; Frankenburg, in Nowack's Hand-Kommentar, 1898; Toy, in International Critical Commentary, 1899.

See also Bois, La Poésie Gnomique, 1886; Cheyne, Job and Solomon, 1887; Monteflore, Notes upon Proverbs, in J. Q. R. 1889-90. Parallels from other literatures are given by Malan, Original Notes on the Book of Proverbs, 1889-93, and G. Jacobs, Altarabische Parallelen zum A. T. 1897.T.

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